Opinion

Brock Holt has become a much smarter hitter

Brock Holt’s improved plate discipline has led to improved production

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (April 14, 2018 – Source: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images North America)

Among Boston Red Sox players with at least 100 plate appearances, Brock Holt‘s .388 OBP is the second-highest on the team behind only Mookie Betts (.437). That may come as a shock to quite a few and it should. The Red Sox have a litany of incredible hitters such as J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Moreland and Xander Bogaerts and each of them would probably pop into brain before Holt when answering the question: “who has the second-highest OBP on the Red Sox?”

If on-base percentage is not your cup of tea, the utility man has the second-highest batting average among Red Sox with at least 100 plate appearances at .319. Unsurprisingly, he trails Mookie Betts in this category, too. Now, this is not to say he has been nearly as valuable as Martinez, Moreland, Benintendi, or Bogaerts with the stick. He has not had nearly as many opportunities and, while he is hitting for more power than ever before (.473 slugging percentage), he lags behind his fellow Sox in the power department.

Still, for a guy who has topped out as a league-average hitter in the past, the left-handed hitter has become something else in 2018. Small sample size caveat in mind, his 133 wRC+ suggests he is creating runs 33% above league average. He has been a better version of himself in every slash line category, although his .364 BABIP may be inflating them. The margin he has improved his offensive output suggests, even if there is some regression to the mean, he has been a much better hitter in 2018.

I did write about Holt’s spike in performance in late April but, considering his opportunities have doubled, it is worth revisiting here. Essentially, the conclusion of that piece was Holt’s underlying numbers pointed towards an improved player, one I believed could be a useful player. He has done nothing but strengthen that hypothesis entering June.

The BrockStar is not hitting the ball considerably harder than in the past, with Hard% (hard contact percentage), Soft% (soft contact percentage), exit velocity and launch angles numbers very similar to younger Brock Holt. He still is hitting an enormous amount of balls on the ground and not very many of the fly ball variety. The 29-year-old is also smacking a ton of line drives. It feels like, while lots of hitters are shifting to a fly ball/launch angle approach, Holt is sticking with a level swing and a spray the ball over the field approach. In other words, he is zigging while everyone else is zagging.

On the point of Holt spraying the ball all over the field, here is his spray chart from this season.

Everything has been hit to all parts of the field, though it seems he has had slight more success with some singles to the pull side. With a 33.3 Oppo% (percent of batted balls to the opposite field), Holt has one of the game’s highest opposite-field percentage and is running a career-high in this category. His career Oppo% is 28.4%. Anecdotally, this approach implies he has been going where the ball takes him and maybe therein lies credence to his offensive improvement.

With that said, the real improvement has been Holt has just become a much more disciplined hitter; a smarter one, if you will. Like most Red Sox hitters, he is swinging at much better pitches, with a significant increase in Z-Swing% (percent of pitches swung at in the zone) this year. His 59.5 Z-Swing% is the best of his career, outside of his partial, under 100 plate appearances 2013 season. Moreover, he is swinging demonstrably less at balls with the 5th-lowest O-Swing% (percent of pitches swung at outside of the zone) among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances at 17.3%. I mean, Holt has swung at less pitches outside the zone than Joey Votto this season. That is saying something compelling. His F-Strike% (first-pitch strike percentage) is also at a career-best (or low), so he is getting himself in more favorable hitter counts.

Obviously, swinging at better pitches and less at worst pitches is a wonderful recipe for success. In fact, it has led to the versatile player cut his strikeout rate down to the lowest it has ever been. As of this writing, his K% sits at a paltry 13.6%, which is by far the lowest of his career. In a typical Brock Holt season, he will strikeout close to 20% of the time. He has literally cut his K% by close to seven percent, allowing him to not hand over free outs to the opposition.

He has been able to continue to draw walks at an above-average rate in 2018, while still being able to run one of the highest Contact% in the game. Holt has not added much pop to his game, despite the increase in slugging percentage. Instead, Brock Holt has become a much smarter/disciplined hitter, swinging at better pitches, and this goes a long way in explaining the better version of Holt we have seen at the plate. We also can’t forget the hugs. No one gives hugs quite like Brock Holt.

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